How to Do It

I Agreed to a Threesome and Found Another Woman—but My Husband Is Furious About My One Boundary

I don’t think this is unreasonable.

A man and woman, the man looking a little miffed. An X flashes in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I have been married for going on seven years. We have three kids. When we married, he knew I was bi, but I had basically tucked that away to end up with the man of my dreams and choose the P over the V. To say we have awesome sex would be an understatement. We have porn-star-quality sex at least five to six days a week. He can get me to squirt like I’ve never seen before, even in porn.

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We’ve been talking about and considering a threesome with another woman for a few years, but just recently started to set it up. A friend of ours is a swinger, and while I won’t have sex with her, she knows people. She hooked us up with a girlfriend of hers. Since then, we have taken it slow. She and I had dinner and drinks to discuss. Then she came over for drinks with my husband and with me. They left for dinner just the two of them to discuss. The night ended all together back at home continuing to discuss and trying a kiss. Negotiations were going really well—until I realized that for our first time in a threesome, I’m not comfortable with my husband penetrating her with his penis. He can do literally anything else to her that she’s OK with. But I want that one thing to remain sacred and between us. He is upset with me for putting this boundary on the table. He says I need to consider how that makes him feel, and he wants to penetrate her. I told him this point is not a negotiation for me. He knows that I am open to changing my mind during the event and alerting him, if the opportunity arises and I feel comfortable. I’m also open to erasing this boundary for our second or third threesome, just not the first. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here. Am I?

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—Threesome Troubles

Dear TT,

You are not being unreasonable. He should feel fortunate that you both are amenable to nonmonogamy, and the only way to preserve that amenability is to move at a pace that you’re both comfortable with. I say this often: In these situations, the most sensitive person dictates the pace. Besides, plenty of hookups are premised on boundaries like the one you describe: “We’ll only do oral.” Sometimes people work up to penetration, and that really helps to ease them into things. This is standard practice. Your husband is acting like you’re asking for something outlandish like juggling during sex.

He should have nothing to complain about, especially since you’ve left the door open for penetration in the future, or even during the first time. He needs to ask himself if he wants continued harmony, or if he wants these extracurricular activities to threaten the good thing you have. If not, then he should respect your desires and understand that you aren’t laying down the law but warming up to something new. You could remind him that an alternative might be no threesomes at all and see if he finds your parameters so unreasonable then.

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Dear How to Do It,

I have a close friend who has been doing something wrong: She had been snooping on her husband’s online activities and history without him knowing. She has problems with insecurity and low self-esteem, even though she is stunning in terms of beauty and also is a good person. I advised her to seek therapy, but she says she can’t afford it, and also she refuses to talk about this with her husband because in the past he already tried to invalidate all her feelings.

She is skinny, and this is her biggest insecurity. The content he looks at almost daily are from a specific website known for sexy pictures of women, mostly half-naked or naked with big boobs. This is affecting her sexual life because she doesn’t want to have sex with him; she feels very insecure about her body and even disgusted. But she always comes to me with the same story, which never has a solution. And the cycle never ends: She believes that her husband is using her for her body, and that he doesn’t love her or even truly like her or her appearance. She thinks that if a woman like the one in the pictures ever tried to seduce him, he would probably break their marriage right away. He acts loving and careful with her sometimes, and sometimes cold and insensitive (whenever arguing). Do you have any advice to help me to help her to stop doing that and get to a rational solution? How do I explain that men and women may seek this kind of content for different reasons, and it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love her?

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—Worried Friend

Dear Worried Friend,

I’m taking you at your word that you are actually asking for a friend and not “asking for a friend” in the euphemistic I’m-too-afraid-to-ask-this-on-my-own-behalf sense, because what would be the point of that in an anonymous forum? The good and/or bad news is you can’t do very much here. You aren’t your friend’s therapist, which means you shouldn’t be doing therapy. To break the cycle you describe, maybe you could poke around for some insight by asking her what’s her objective by bringing this up. You say she always comes to you with the same unsolved problem, so I wonder what her point is in spinning her discursive wheels. Catharsis? Sympathy? Does she not have anything else to talk about? Does she believe that this is the most interesting thing about her? Let’s not ignore that her cycle of wallowing came as a result of snooping—she effectively walked into her own prison. By being such a good listener, you might be enabling the drama. You’re absolutely right that she should be talking to an expert, though. At the very least, she could look into an online support group for those with body dysmorphia like this one.

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There are any number of explanations for why her husband is into the porn he likes. Instead of suspecting that he’s looking at it because he doesn’t love her, one could deduce that he’s doing it because he does love her: The human brain craves novelty, and this porn could be his way of scratching that itch without cheating on her. The idea that we have one type and that either our taste in porn or choice of partners must reflect it is far too simplistic. If men stopped using porn as soon as they were married, it wouldn’t be the industry that it is. Of course, my hypothesizing is worthless compared with an actual conversation with her husband. Her concerns about having her feelings minimized are legitimate, although rational discussion might suggest that she is in fact blowing things out of proportion and that said feelings don’t need to take up as much space as they have been. To hold off having that conversation is to prolong the wallowing, which might, in fact, be your friend’s point. In that case, I’m not sure there’s anything you can tell her that will make things better. She’ll have to make that decision for herself.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a 34-year-old woman who has been married to my husband for 10 years. We’ve been together for 14 years total. We used to be more adventurous and have sex more frequently, but now we only have sex maybe once a month. My problem is he will not go down on me. I go down on him every time we have sex, but he will not reciprocate. I am pretty reserved and somewhat shy when it comes to sex and talking about it, but I did recently ask him about it. He said he would do it, and we haven’t had sex again. It’s been two months. He mentioned the one time he did try was years ago that I didn’t seem into it, so he never tried again. The reason I may not seem into it is because my first time ever, with my ex, made it a point to tell me all of the time that “vaginas are disgusting.” My ex never tried to go down on me. Needless to say, my first time was not a good one. My husband knows all of this. How do I get “into it” and push the thoughts that it is disgusting out of my mind? Should I muster up the courage to talk to my husband about it again?

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—Not Into It

Dear Not Into It,

Your letter took a turn in the middle that I was not expecting—it seems that your problem has less to do with your husband going down on you than it does your own feelings about receiving oral sex. You report that he doesn’t reciprocate because you didn’t seem into it, but then you end up seeming to confirm that you’re not into it. It’s important to sort out what you want: Do you want oral sex, or do you merely want to want it because you think that is a “normal” thing to want? Do you suspect your husband is being sincere, or is he using your perceived lack of interest as an excuse for his laziness or disinterest?

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I ask because I think you need to answer these questions for yourself—I can’t unravel these things from here any more easily than I can the tangle of cords behind the entertainment center in your living room. If you legitimately want to try oral sex, you might start to chip away at your misgivings by confronting the fact that “vaginas are disgusting” is a misogynist credo, and that by holding onto this belief—which is based not on your actual vagina but vaginas in theory—you’re not only upholding this sexism, you’re letting an ex from many years ago dictate your current sex life. There are many ways to iron negative thoughts of your mind: Cognitive behavioral therapy is one that you might want to look into.

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Also, you’re allowed to not want oral sex. It’s not a requirement, and plenty of people have satisfying sex lives without it. I’m always going to come down on more communication, so yes, I think you should talk to your husband, specifically seeking positive feedback and support. Remind him that an ex put in your head the idea that your vagina is disgusting, and that you could use his reinforcement to help nourish your self-image. Ask him honestly what he thinks, and whether there is anything beyond your reaction that one time that he went down on you that is holding him back. What you describe is a feedback loop of sensitivity: You feel uncomfortable, and your lack of comfort makes him uncomfortable, which makes you feel more uncomfortable, and so on. With support, you can break that cycle and you should if that is, in fact, what you really want.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m 40 soon, and after years of heartbreak from various relationships and two abusive relationships, I’ve found someone who is beyond incredible. He’s the funniest, kindest, most intelligent, and talented person I’ve ever met. I can completely be myself with him, and he makes me feel so loved and valued, and we want the same thing for the future. I pinch myself. We’ve been together for just more than a year, but because of me moving in with him at the start of quarantine, things accelerated quickly. But it feels natural and right. I’m a bisexual woman, and in my heart of hearts, I think I’ve always known I’d prefer to end up marrying a man, as I’m just more naturally attracted to men. (Although I have to admit, it does break my heart a bit that I’ll never be with a woman again.)

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Now the but: Our sex life just isn’t doing it for me at all, and this is made worse by the fact that the person I was with before him was the best sex I’d ever had—seriously kinky and mind blowing. We weren’t really on the same wavelength intellectually, but I can only describe the sexual connection we had as something that felt chemical, it’s like our hormones were completely compatible. Anyway, that relationship did not end well. I know I want to be with my boyfriend always, and our sex isn’t bad—he’s really attractive and he knows what he’s doing, but it’s quite vanilla. We occasionally use toys, which I enjoy a lot, but it doesn’t have that natural passion. Plus, and I know it sounds strange, but I don’t like his natural smell? He’s a very clean, fresh-smelling person, but I feel like his natural smell isn’t compatible with my nose.

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I wish it didn’t matter to me, but it’s really playing on my mind that I’ve already had the best sex of my life. There’s no way I would ever end things over this, because compatibility wise, no one could match him. Part of me would be curious to explore opening the relationship up just for sex, but in practice, I don’t know how I’d handle that, and I also worry that if I went off and had sex with someone who fulfilled me more sexually then I would resent my sex life with him even more. I like to be dominated and I know my boyfriend just doesn’t have that side to him, and I wouldn’t want to ask him; if he tried, it would feel really unauthentic and not at all hot. (There have been times in previous relationships where I’ve had to be the dominant one, and because that role isn’t a part of my sexuality, it wasn’t fun or satisfying for anyone.) How can I get over my past sex life and fully appreciate everything I have right now—which is everything I ever wanted? I know how lucky I am and I’m so grateful, but I just wish I didn’t need to have such kinky sex once in a while.

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—So Close

Dear So Close,

You don’t sound ridiculous at all—chemistry, particularly the pheromones that excite our olfactory responses, can be massively important to our sexual gratification. On that particular point, I’d ask him not to shower and refrain from deodorant before sex. Even better, try a post-workout workout in the bedroom. I don’t know if his natural smell is clean and fresh, or if it’s product that is making him that way, but it’s worth experiencing him more rank to see if that changes anything for you.

As for his general demeanor in bed, I just want you to be sure that he is, in fact, incapable of dominating you. Don’t “Gift of the Magi” this. There’s a potential scenario in which he’s completely open to domination but is too polite and in love to go there, and you in turn are too polite and in love to ask. So make sure you’re sure, and talk about it anyway. It’s OK to like what you like, and if this guy is as great as you say he is, he’s going to accept that.

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The thing is, nothing is perfect, not even the perfect guy. There is, inevitably, something lacking in virtually every relationship. Unfortunately, we humans always want more, no matter how much we get, and if our person could just grow an inch there or had it in him to nail us harder here, he’d be even better than the best thing that ever happened to us. Accepting that you’ve found a great mate, who is most but not all things, shouldn’t be so difficult. Or, because what he’s lacking in bed is such a distraction, maybe he isn’t the perfect mate that you want him to be. Which is it? If this guy is worth his salt, your thoughts and feelings will be received with compassion and sensitivity should you decide to bring them up with him (and I think you should). Sometimes the people that we get along with best aren’t perfect sexual matches, just as far as taste goes, and that’s OK. That’s exactly why open relationships can be so useful. Make sure you head into any discussions about this letting your guy know how much you appreciate him and want to hold onto him, and you should do just fine.

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—Rich

More How to Do It

I’m an attractive and intelligent woman in my mid-30s. I’ve worked for 15 years as a successful commercial model, and I have a master’s degree and an above-average IQ. I’m in incredible shape. I get a lot of emotional and intellectual fulfillment from my relationships with friends and family, so when I date, my primary interest is finding partners who excite me physically. For reasons I don’t understand, I rarely attract these men. The men who flock to me, asking me out to the tune of several times a week (!), are average- or below-average-looking smart guys.

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